Gen Z and tech dependency: How the youngest generation interacts differently with the digital world

Leaders have a unique opportunity to understand, adapt, and leverage Gen Z’s tech dependency in ways that benefit both Gen Z and the companies that employ and sell to them.

Gen Z and tech dependency: How the youngest generation interacts differently with the digital world

The term “tech-savvy” conjures images of young digital savants effortlessly manipulating technology in ways that people from older generations often struggle to emulate. This perception can exacerbate generational divides. With so much of our personal and professional worlds now inextricably tied to digital technology, Gen X and especially Baby Boomers can feel frustrated and intimidated by the idea of younger generations mastering complex modern technology with such ease — and usually while walking (or, unfortunately, driving!).

Are Gen Z really a generation of digital wizards, able to intuitively navigate code, design motion graphics, and maintain server infrastructure? Not quite.

CGK research on Gen Z points to a different phenomenon: Tech dependency. Gen Z lives and breathes the digital world. Social media, information saturation, and rapid advances in physical technology have assimilated into the Gen Z psyche in a fundamentally unique way. Leaders in the workplace and marketplace can use this knowledge to help Gen Z as employees, unlock their potential as customers, and increase trust across generations. 

Digital natives and internet attachment

Gen Z are true digital natives. Our State of Gen Z research studies show that 95% own a smartphone, 83% own a laptop, 78% own an advanced gaming console, and 57% have a desktop computer. 29% use their smartphone past midnight on a nightly basis. 

They thrive in this environment, but they also show signs of dependency. 69% become uncomfortable after being away from internet access for more than eight hours—and 27% can only last one hour! Engaging with online communities and absorbing digital information has become second nature to Gen Z, and severing that connection can cause distress.

The internet is Gen Z’s evergreen wellspring for entertainment, too. As our previous research shows, 73% of Boomers, 69% of Gen Z, and 59% of Millennials report using the internet primarily to access information, 72% of Gen Z access the internet mainly for entertainment: videos, apps, message boards, etc.

The attachment also extends to communication and interpersonal fulfillment. 51% of Gen Z report daily dependence on the internet for access to other people and connections. They consider themselves members in an amalgam of distinct digital communities, with friendships and even reputations to maintain—60% of Gen Z believe online reputations will be the primary determinant of their dating options in the near future.

Tech dependency is complex

This doesn’t mean Gen Z can’t be parted from their smartphones for any reason. Just 22% of Gen Z report feeling stress if they aren’t allowed to use or look at their phones while at work. This could be interpreted as Gen Z continuing to develop their preferred communication channels and expectations. 

In addition to tech expectations, Gen Z’s tech dependency also cultivates an instinct for digital authenticity that should be a benefit as they become adults and trendsetters. 48% say they want a standardized form of authentication from every person they meet online so they can trust that a person isn’t misrepresenting themselves. They are also 25% more likely than Boomers and Gen X to self-select into digital worlds where websites and apps track user data and run interference on bad actors.

Leaders have a unique opportunity to understand, adapt, and leverage Gen Z’s tech dependency in ways that benefit both Gen Z and the companies that employ and sell to them. Recognizing this new mode of interacting with technology as a paradigm shift—and not merely the latest fad or PokemonGo—will help leaders better connect generations in the workplace and beyond.

At CGK, we help leaders understand how to leverage technology across generations to drive trust, innovation, and teamwork. Reach out to us today to see how we can be a resource through speaking, research, or consulting. We look forward to hearing from you–in whatever tech way you prefer to use!

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